Oslo: War by Other Means

by Linda Tabar

© Linda Tabar

Linda Tabar holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Development Studies, Birzeit University, where she is leading a research program on alternatives to mainstream development and neoliberalism. Dr Tabar’s writings on Palestinian politics, struggle, the effects of the international aid regime on the Palestinian national liberation movement have appeared in various journals and edited volumes.

September 13, 2013 will mark the twentieth year of the Oslo 'peace process', now an interminable process, without peace and without end. At a time when most Palestinians have denounced Oslo and seek to overturn their leadership’s capitulation to agreements through which "Israel has secured official Palestinian consent to Israeli occupation" (Said, 2002: 14), the Americans have arrived with new proposals, and talk of billions of dollars in economic aid, which threaten to re-cement this process for an indefinite period, if not years to come.
The ongoing imperial investment in Oslo partly has to do with the way this process created the sense "that the Palestinian problem had been resolved" (ibid: 15). Yet, far from an opening towards peace, grounded in recognition of the Palestinian people and their rights, Oslo was designed to recuperate Zionist settler colonialism, and its racist, militaristic ideology.
If Oslo was more akin a negotiated surrender of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, then it is useful to revisit Oslo and the devastating effects it had on the Palestinian people through the lens of Michel Foucault’s reversal of Carl von Clausewitz’s famous axiom in his claim that "politics is the continuation of war by other means". In this reading, Oslo did not accidently lead to disaster, but was an instrument for domesticating and reframing Palestine, and as such, was the condition of possibility for Zionist settler colonialism to continue its war against the Palestinian natives through other strategies and means.

The roots of Oslo

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© ynetnews.com

The Oslo agreements can be traced back to the American and Israeli "attempt to construct a 'new Middle East'... (under) imperial-Zionist hegemony", following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and the onset of the destruction of Iraq, after the first US onslaught in 1991 (Eid, 2009). Within this new imperial order, the Palestinian national liberation struggle was to be pacified: a struggle, which in its post-1967 emergence was attributed with having "revolutionized the whole situation in the area" (Trabulsi, 1969: 85). It is worth recalling that Oslo partly responded to the first Palestinian intifada, a people’s struggle for liberation, which transformed the Palestinian people into a force that could not be ignored. Oslo sought to quell this force by removing it from the regional and local political equation. The compliant native authority created by Oslo, was established on the ruins of this struggle, and co-opted or suppressed the alternative popular formations and resistance cultures that it produced.

A land without natives

If the Oslo agreements seemingly reversed decades of denial, it did so by inscribing Palestinians in a new absence, without recognition, rights and history. This was not accidental, it upheld the Zionist settler narrative, which like other settler mythologies disavows its own history of conquest, and defines the European settlers as the "original inhabitants" of an "empty land" (Razack, 2002). Palestinians like other racialised natives are cast as intruders in this narrative, who are to be subjugated or "cleared from the land(scape)....like debris" (ibid quoting Goldberg, 2002: 3-4). Oslo reproduced this racialised order and its spatialized domination. 
Oslo reinforced the Zionist settler colonial system of domination and it disavowal of the catastrophic dismemberment of the Palestinian people that it caused in 1948. It did this by excluding the vast majority of the Palestinians from the 'peace process'; approximately 7 million Palestinian refugees, who were uprooted from their homes by the Zionist forces, and over 1 million Palestinians, who remained, and today live under apartheid realities inside Israel.
In the 1967 occupied lands, where the Oslo process was territoralised, the creation of seemingly autonomous areas under the Palestinian Authority produced a separate frontier, ostensibly outside Israeli sovereignty. Within this new "outside" settler strategies of spatial confinement and physical enclosure where applied, which segregated Palestinians from a growing network of Jewish only colonies, and intensified efforts break up the native society and slowly get rid of the Palestinians.

Way forward

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Historically, the Palestinian national movement opposed Zionism with a humanist vision of liberation: the secular democratic state was promoted as a just framework for restoring the rights of the Palestinian people in their homeland, and dismantling the racialised system of settler oppression. Today, the American attempt to re-impose the Oslo process seeks to forestall such a struggle and discipline the question of Palestine, as the US and Israel work to induce a new brutal regional disorder.
While the latest US initiative may lure the unaccountable Palestinian leadership, it will not be able to reverse Palestinian resistance. Palestinian movements, from the movement for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, to the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS), have been organising to demand the rights of all of the Palestinian people, not just those in the West Bank and Gaza. Within the realities described above, these movements face a complex assemblage of forces, from neoliberalisation and securitisation, to western development assistance, mobilised to manage the Palestinians. Adding to this, international solidarity is itself being depoliticised by global liberal hegemonies linked to US formations of empire. This is resulting in the arrival of political tourists who seek the thrills of resisting occupation and leave without committing to a struggle to end oppression. In this context, the BDS movement is leading the way in rebuilding international solidarity with Palestine that is rooted in a tradition of anti-colonial, anti-imperial and anti-racist politics. Today, the challenges for those in solidarity with Palestine is to unmask the deception of Oslo, avoid re-colonising gestures of solidarity, and support the struggle to restore the rights of all the Palestinian people, a struggle for a decolonised Palestine, dismantling the last European settler colony. (19 September 2013)


Eid, Haidar (2009): "Gaza 2009: De-Osloizing the Palestinian Mind." Uprooted Palestinian’s Blog, March 14.

Razack, Sherene (2002): "Introduction: When Place Becomes Race." In Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society. Sherene Razack (ed.). Toronto: Between the Lines.

Said, Edward (2002): The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After. London: Granta Books.

Trabulsi, Fawwaz (1969): "The Palestine Problem: Zionism and Imperialism in the Middle East." New Left Review, 1/57, September-October. 

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement – Freedom, Justice, Equality